Recently I have been making photographs using the Hipstamatic App on the Iphone. This body of work has caused me to consider the issues raised by the use of an Iphone as the device employed for image making.
Currently, there is a prejudice, (though it seems to be lessening as time passes), against photographs made with cell phones. The publication in The New York Times of Damon Winter's Iphone/Hipstamatic pictures of soldiers in Afghanistan brought to a head an ongoing debate in the photographic community. The validity of the artistic choices on the part of the photographer when using the Hipstamatic APP, were brought in to question.
My view is that there are now an exponential number of camera/film pairings available to the photographer in Hipstamatic. Choosing a particular camera/film combination results in a certain look for a particular image. Choosing a "look" over and over again will results in a consistent body of work. This is what a photographic artist does. He chooses a style for a group of pictures that will enhance and amplify the subject.
"People may have the impression that it is easy to make interesting images with a camera app like this, but it is not the case. At the heart of every solid image are the same fundamentals: composition, information, moment, emotion, connection. If people think that this is a magic tool, they are wrong. Of hundreds of images taken with the phone over those six days in Nahr-i-Sufi, only a handful were worth reproducing." -Damon Winter.
My method of street photography has been consistent over my thirty years of practice. I am drawn to the spontaneous unforced event. The less manipulation of the subject before me, the better. I see myself as a vessel witnessing and recording a moment in time and space. I respond to the visual stimuli before me, making decisions based on instinct and experience. In the past, there was a part of me that found it slightly inauthentic and artificial to go out with a camera and look for pictures. The Iphone allows me to put aside this artificiality and live my life. If the muse smiles on me, great!
One of the advantages of an Iphone as my camera of choice for street photography is it's stealth aspect. Using an Iphone allows me to remain almost unnoticed while doing street photography. No one pays any attention to someone looking at their smart phone on the street. In some ways, I am referring back to Walker Evens and Helen Levitt's use of a camera that appeared to be pointing in one direction, while in reality was exposing the film with the real lens pointed in in another. This allowed Evans and Levitt greater freedom to choose their subject matter and make images with greater authenticity. In a street situation, the Iphone, relative to a D-SLR or even a point and shoot camera is almost invisible. As a street photographer in this hyper-aware culture of images and image making, I have a new found freedom.
The limitations of the Iphone/Hipstamatic are another reason that makes it compelling: the fixed lense, the low ISO, and the slow "developing time" all serve to focus my attention in a particular way. In many ways this is the closest to an analog experience I've had since I switched over to making pictures with digital cameras. By selecting my specific camera/film combination in Hipstamatic, I can echo my previous street work in Kodachrome.
About size: To preface my remarks, Graham Nash created Nash Editions in response to his particular set of circumstances. Negatives he created in the 60's were lost; just contact sheets remained. His personal necessity to see and make larger sized high quality prints of these lost images led him to create the technology and systems to enable that. In a similar vein, the Iphone produces only a 7MB file, more or less. How does one make a high quality fine art print from this tiny original?
Already, thiis technology exists. I am able to make a 15" x15" archival inkjet pigment print that reflects my intentions. This technology will surely continue to evolve. From it's inception, photography has always been a marriage of Art and Science.
My experience is similar to Mr. Winter's. Editing is a major part of what makes a strong photographer. It is in the editing that the photographer demonstrates that he knows what he is doing. In a sense he or she is showing that a strong photo is not an a lucky "accident" but rather a deliberate, considered choice. Decisions were made when shooting and are revisited and refined during the editing process.
"Each photographer uses a technique or tool that helps him or her to best tell the stories and all of their work has been acknowledged and celebrated. None of these techniques are grounded on the idea of visual accuracy but they are effectively used to tell stories, convey ideas and to enlighten, which is the real heart of our work....What has gotten people so worked up, I believe, falls under the heading of aesthetics. Some consider the use of the phone camera as a gimmick or as a way to aestheticize news photos. Those are fair arguments, but they have nothing to do with the content of the photos."- Damon Winter
When we as viewers look at a strong "fine art" photograph from one hundred years ago, is the equipment or process of the picture making, back then, really the determining factor of why we as viewers "care" or "like" and choose to return to a particular image? In general, I think not.
In the long run, the experience of the viewer looking at a particular image will remain the same...does it move me, excite me, and compel me to look at it again and again?
Robert Herman, December 2011